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A Woman of Faith and Courage

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Has fear ever paralyzed you, made you afraid to make a critical decision because of possible or probable serious consequences?

It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear; it is the mastery of it. The Bible, however, adds an important element to the definition of courage: trust and faith in God. Moses told the ancient Israelites not to fear the other nations when they crossed over the Jordan River into the promised land, because God was with them and would not forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6 Deuteronomy 31:6Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.
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How can you have this kind of faith? How can you step out and confidently make decisions that will affect the course of your physical-and maybe even your spiritual-life?

From an orphan to a queen

For the answer, consider the example of a Jewish girl from ancient Persia.

In the third year of his reign, Ahasuerus, king of the Medes and Persians, searched for a new queen from among the beautiful virgins in his kingdom. She was to replace Queen Vashti. Vashti had humiliated her husband in front of many people including all his officials. She had refused to allow him to display her beauty before everyone at his special feast (Esther 1:10-22 Esther 1:10-22 10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, 11 To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. 12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. 13 Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment: 14 And the next to him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;) 15 What shall we do to the queen Vashti according to law, because she has not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains? 16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. 17 For this deed of the queen shall come abroad to all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. 18 Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day to all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath. 19 If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she. 20 And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small. 21 And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan: 22 For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.
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Esther, a young orphan, was among the women the king ordered brought to the palace for special pampering and preparation for the king's scrutiny as possible royal replacements. Her cousin, Mordecai, had reared her. Mordecai was a Jewish servant “in the king's gate” (Esther 2:19 Esther 2:19And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king’s gate.
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), which implied that he held a position in the king's court. Following her cousin's advice, Esther did not reveal her ethnic identity. After the king chose her as queen, she maintained her contact with her cousin (Esther 2).

Plot to wipe out a race

Sometime later Ahasuerus appointed Haman, a man prominent in the kingdom, to a special office over his princes. Ahasuerus commanded that each servant should bow down to Haman, paying him homage. Mordecai refused.

Haman was enraged by Mordecai's actions. But he wasn't satisfied just to seek revenge on one man; he devised a scheme to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. He approached the king and informed him that the Jews did not keep the king's laws. He convinced Ahasuerus to issue a decree saying 10,000 talents of silver would go to anyone who would destroy the Jews (Esther 3).

In ancient Persia, when the king made a decree and sealed it with his signet ring, it was not to be revoked or amended. Ahasuerus's decree went out, resulting in great mourning and fasting among the Jews throughout the land. Clothed in sackcloth and ashes of mourning, Mordecai sat in the square near the king's gate. When Esther learned of Mordecai's circumstance, she told her maids to take garments to clothe him and to take away his sackcloth. But Mordecai would not accept them.

Esther then sent Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs who attended her, to find out what was wrong with Mordecai. Mordecai told him all that had happened and gave him a copy of the written decree to show to Esther. He also told him to tell her to go to the king and plead for her people.

Esther had not seen the king for 30 days. The king enforced a law that anyone who came into the inner court to approach him whom he had not specifically called was to die. However, the king could make an exception by holding out his golden scepter, thereby sparing the person. So Esther sent the eunuch back to Mordecai with the message that she could not enter the court to see the king.

Mordecai answered that, if she did nothing, she risked death along with all her countrymen in the kingdom. He also asked a piercing question: What if God had elevated Esther to her position as queen for the specific purpose of helping save her people at this critical time? (Esther 4:13-14 Esther 4:13-14 13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with yourself that you shall escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but you and your father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
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Esther's dilemma

What a decision for such a young woman! Death seemed certain regardless of what she decided. Vashti had been only banished from her position as queen. Esther might actually be killed!

She had to answer Mordecai. What would she do? She must have prayed and agonized over her decision. Tension and anxiety must have consumed her. She was sickened with fear for herself and her people.

She must have asked herself a hundred times would God really let her die if she refused to help the Jews? She was so young. Surely God did not want her to die. On the other hand, could she stand silently by and watch heartless Haman annihilate her people? Why couldn't her dilemma just go away like a bad dream?

In the midst of her turmoil, Esther realized she could not allow fear to paralyze her into inaction; that in itself would be a decision. Instead, she left the outcome with God. It was clear she had only one real choice.

Even in giving Mordecai her answer, Esther knew she did not have the courage within herself to face Ahasuerus. But she did know where to go for the courage she lacked: to God in fasting and prayer. Placing her life in God's hands, she let Him decide the outcome for her and her people.

She sent word to Mordecai requesting that he ask their fellow Jews to fast for her for three days and nights. She and her maids would do likewise. Then she promised to go before the king, knowing full well she was risking her life (Esther 4:16 Esther 4:16Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast you for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in to the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
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You can read the remainder of the book of Esther to see what happened. The king did extend his golden scepter, and he spared Esther's life. After several special banquets for the king and Haman, Esther finally revealed Haman's plot and made known her request for her people. The king ordered Haman hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai's execution.

The king issued a new decree: The Jews were free to defend themselves and destroy anyone who would assault them. He promoted Mordecai, and the Jews were saved. To this day, many Jews observe the Feast of Purim in honor of this event.

What can we learn?

Sometimes fear is our normal human reaction when we are faced with a seemingly impossible decision. Acknowledging our lack of courage is the first step to overcoming it. But we must not allow fear to paralyze us into taking no action at all.

You must realize that you need help and that you cannot go it alone. Recognize that God is all powerful, that He has promised never to leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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). Go to Him in prayer and fasting to seek His will in making the right decision. Then confidently make your decision, with the courage and conviction that God is on your side.

Perhaps a fitting conclusion to this story of godly courage can come from the words on a memorial in Westminster Abbey. Inscribed on the monument to Lord Lawrence are these words: “He feared man so little because he feared God so much.”